Wise Words on Fear of Aging
ElderMovies and an Elder Nascar Driver

AARP's Ageism is Showing

[EDITOR'S NOTE:] A new story has been posted at blogher.com this morning titled Wine, Foie Gras and Women's Longevity.]

category_bug_ageism.gif AARP sells a lot of different kinds of insurance to its age 50-plus members and some critics argue that its lobbying efforts (it supported the Medicare – Part D prescription drug coverage legislation) have less to do with benefiting members than maintaining and increasing its product revenue.

That’s worth considering whenever you read that AARP supports one political position or another and I have sometimes disagreed with policies it advocates. On the other hand, I frequently rely on the excellent research they produce on a vast array of elder issues and I enjoy some of the stories in the magazine and Bulletin. Aging is what AARP concerns itself with and here is part of how they say they see their goal:

“AARP is dedicated to enhancing quality of life for all as we age. We lead positive social change and deliver value to members through information, advocacy and service…

“AARP celebrates the attitude that age is just a number and life is what you make it.”

It is not unreasonable to assume from that mission statement that it is in AARP's DNA to respect aging and elderhood, and that they hold themselves up as an advocate for elders, a bulwark against ageism.

That would not be unreasonable, that is, until the most recent issue of AARP magazine arrives in your mailbox.

Aarpmirren There is a photo on the cover of 61-year-old actor Helen Mirren. Although the photograph appears to be airbrushed to look 20 years younger than the same woman I saw on television a week ago, it is a good tradition of AARP to always feature old celebrities on the magazine cover. No other publication does.

But then, that cutline up there on the left of Helen Mirren’s head pops out at you shouting: Look Younger Now. Erase 10 years (or more).

It is the same old ageist language that appears all over the media every day perpetuating the same cultural insistence that age is bad and everyone must do everything within their power to look as young as possible unto the grave. But this time it is worse coming, as it does, from an organization that says it represents elders. Or maybe they represent only youthful-looking elders.

The story accompanying the headline is a monthly staple of teen, beauty and fashion magazines: large, full-color photos of impossibly beautiful women. The only difference in this case is that they are age 52 to 75 selected, says writer Gabrielle deGroot Redford,

“…during our Faces of 50+ Real People Model Search…”

Real people? There is not a single neck wrinkle, eye sag or jowl among them. Their teeth are as perfect as a runway model’s and they all have professionally styled hair.

These women are as real as a movie star, as closely airbrushed as Helen Mirren’s cover photo with just a crow’s foot or two here and there for some minor authenticity.

The story also hypes dermatologist Leslie Baumann, M.D. and her latest book, along with brand-name cosmetics she recommended for each woman during a two-day course in skincare.

Since any sentient being knows there is no skincare that can undo in two days what nature has done in five or six or seven decades, readers are being addressed as idiots. These women are either Photoshopped into perfect smoothness, have better genes than most movie stars or have had cosmetic surgery.

Contrary to what the youth and beauty police believe, smooth and unwrinkled are not the only criteria of facial attractiveness. Years ago when I lived in Texas, I worked with a woman who was then in her late sixties. She had grown up on a cattle ranch, had married a wealthy rancher and had, from the age of five or six, ridden a horse every morning for an hour or so – as she continued to do when I knew her. She had the weather-beaten skin of an old-time gold prospector and she was strikingly beautiful. Why are such women as she not held up to us as ideals?

As this article shows, the cultural coercion to reach impossible standards of beauty that begins in pre-teen years now extends clear into old age - and this time by a publication that says it “celebrates the attitude that age is just a number and life is what you make it.”

[Hat tip to Judith Benenson.]


I am sure I have made mention of my feelings before with regard to AARP but I will touch on it again briefly because the mention of the "AARP" word will make my blood start heading toward the boiling point. In fact, you may now find the "AARP" word in my personal dictionary along with other disgusting four-letter words.

I am quite sure the organization began with all good intentions. I was fifty-five when I joined. I was not well read on the organization at the time but certainly liked what I had heard about them up until then. After reading their magazine for a couple of years and getting some sense of their agenda I grew more and more suspicious of their motives on certain issues. And I kept getting almost weekly these flyers and letters pushing all sorts of various insurance and health plans...half of which were AARP plans. Something was beginning to smell fishy in Denmark!

When the Medicare Part D issue began to take shape and they began strongly urging "seniors" to get on board and touting that it was a good plan. Well...that was it for me. And the ink wasn't dry on the new bill when they began pushing their own prescription drug plan.

With great fervor I wrote them a personal letter telling them to immediately cancel my membership and to cease all future mailings. I also recall mentioning the fact that there actual agenda was no longer subtle but quite blatant in nature as I recall.

So Ronni...with some exceptions such as this post of yours today which begs for me personally to say a few words, I normally will only stop momentarily to pass any excess gas at the site of anything about AARP and move on to the better part of my day.

As to the subject matter of your post, it is with firm conviction that I feel they are pushing products in reality have little concern with either our looks....or our well-being.

On all points re: AARP, I agree....but please try to lighten up, folks! I scoff, too at the features about looking great over 55, but beyond looks most of the people they feature have other talents & experiences that are far more appealing. That Mirren is the consummate actor along with Dench,et al......cannot be denied. I for one love that face, air brush & all! Just look at the neck that looks worse than mine......ha! Get past the gloss of the pages & focus on the stories. These people have remarkable energy & have & will continue to provide another dimension to our lives. They are the "arts". For them I am eternally grateful for enriching my life. Dee

As I have observed with any organization older than maybe six months, it stops being about the members and starts being about the growing and developing the organization.
If you want to support the organization that's up to you, but the organization has no interest whatsoever in supporting you.

AQ is right on: institutions that start out great, end up being self-preserving and growth oriented. (I've never figured out why a business/institution/ organization thinks it must grow to be successful. Do a good job without becoming cancerous!) At age 45, I picked up the AARP magazine on an airplane and couldn't wait to join an organization that put out such a great mag.

After I joined, some of the women who had been running the organization for some time began retiring (or, at least, leaving the running of AARP) and I started noticing that the magazine featured articles on how to cook, how to look beautiful, how to dress...ad nauseum. Suddenly, there were different versions of the magazine going to different demographics (one to those employed, one to those unemployed, who knows what others?) Now, the magazine stinks! (Ever note that most of the people hitting age x0--at the back of the mag--are in the entertainment industry???) It's sad, isn't it?

I didn't join AARP when I got the invitation many years ago because I disapproved of lobbying groups period. Naively I want us to do what is best for as a nation-- overall, not any one group. It apparently never works that way but I just didn't like the concept of groups that work hard for their own benefits over the harm to others. I have sometimes thought I was wrong, often found the AARP magazine sounded interesting, but still haven't joined all these years later.

I find airbrushing beautiful women to be offensive. When they take out (even in a magazine for elders) all signs of being our age, it says even beautiful women, as she clearly is, can't be beautiful with lines or wrinkles which is ridiculous. It's like saying a bald man can't be handsome. Tell that to Sean Connery admirers!

When we wipe out our wrinkles, we wipe out the life lived. Too bad someone doesn't do a photographic book with glamorous older women, not because they are made up with phony glamour but the real McCoy like the woman you were describing in Texas.

I believe beauty comes in all ages and nothing wrong to want beauty but somehow the definiton of it has been lost in this desire for sales and the youth culture where even 30 year olds can feel old. Bah humbug.

Just for fun, I went to Flickr and searched for photos tagged "old women". There are over 1000 photos people have self-identified with the tag "old women." I don't know what this proves, but it certainly lead me to some interesting photos, none of whom show a face like Helen Mirren's.

Yes, favorite thespian on the cover and no wrinkles on the faces and necks of those lovely people inside. AARP is trying to please everyone.

I joined AARP with a certain fervor way too many years ago, and now see them as a group of lobbyists with an agist focus. Yes too, they like the Names Project...the group the runs the AIDS Quilt, both started with the best of intentions and now it is about the organization.

Yes, some of us may be wiping out life as lived on our faces and necks, but socially many women and some men are only comfortable if they have nipped, tucked, and smoothed themselves into a level of social acceptability. Sometimes their jobs demand this. Sometimes their fears demand it. Youth is the social acceptably of today. Even I long to have a chin again. It can be wrinkled, but it would be nice to have it separate from my shoulders. Ah well.

Virginia: what a good idea and thanks for the link. I had a fine time scrolling through the photos.

I have no idea what it means, but about 90 percent of old women's faces pictured are people from other countries, not U.S. or western Europe either.

Come to think of it, I don't ever see faces such as those posted at Flickr in the United States. Anyone have any idea of the reason?

I have to agree with Alan and AQ. AARP is not on my "favorites" list. I still have a bad taste in my mouth from them when I was seeking insurance coverage after I was out of work and on my own after my husband passed away. I don't think they're necessarily working to benefit and help the elder population as they so eagerly want everyone to believe. I'm a fairly new member...really only since 2006; but I don't think I'll be renewing my membership.

And Ronni, when I saw the pic of Helen...I though the same thing....come on AARP...be real.

I remember too many times when the AARP lobbied for a position that the board favored, but the membership, when asked, did not. So many times those were positions that would grant some small benefit to elders at the cost of their grandchildren inheriting the debt. I have never joined.

Too bad for me: I feel unwelcome at AARP because I'm not "retired" (talk about a euphemism!). Correct me if I'm wrong... but didn't, some years back, AARP start trying to attract *pre-retirement) people? Didn't all that direct mail start targeting, "...people 50 and up." Who was "retiring" at 50 anyway? Truth is, many of us will be working longer than we ever expected to, a) because employers didn't want to pay our benefits and fired us b) the fabulous economy isn't as fabulous as we had been led to believe, particularly for women c) women got liberated .. from their partner's penions; d) improved health is *letting* us work longer e) the very system of *retirement* at a certain age has always been designed to shove old people out the door with a little dough and nowhere to go. But worry not: AARP wants us all (50 and up)... especially our membership dollars, and *most especially* our participation in for-fee services (insurance anyone?)

I penned a blog about 4 or 5 years ago which dealt with aging....I wish I hadn't deleted it now! Oh well.

Anyway, it was about a full page ad in AARP's magazine depicting a very attractive couple on their bicycles, smiling with their dazzling white teeth -- every carefully coiffed grey hair in place (no wind the day they were on the bike trail, I suppose) -- and just having a great old time. Oh, and of course, not a wrinkle or crease in their smooth faces.

Doesn't sound very interesting the way I have described it here, but I was a lot less ladylike with my descriptions of these two perfect "senior" citizens when I wrote the blog about them.

In fact it was very funny, if I do say so myself. (It's hard to be humble) I entertained the idea of joining AARP for many years, but never got around to it. I have already forgotten what they did or said that "ticked" me off, politically speaking. I just know I did not only disagree with their philosophy, I developed a distaste for the whole package.

So I never did join AARP. Probably never will. I have too much time and money invested in animal welfare activities, anyway. I live in a "retirement community" and it is truly wonderful. Now! If only I could find at least *one* female in this compound who is aware we are now living in the 21st century and it is absolutely nothing like the happy 1950's where Mrs. Cleaver wore a cute apron and string of pearls to clean the toilets, et al.

I have been a volunteer for one cause or another for at least 40 years. When I retired in 1993 I was very happy because I then had more time to spend on my favorite things -- animal welfare, women's issues in society, blah blah blah.

As far as trying hard to "look younger" ? That's just too much work. Just wash your face with Dove soap, slap some moisture cream on and call it a day.

And take AARP, like so many other "types" of media, with a grain of salt. Or not, depending on your cardiac health. LOL

It's not just AARP. I used to love Shape and Yoga Journal for their great articles and fitness tips. Now it's just selling cosmetics or guru-level yoga classes or... yawn.

Magazines in general are fairly worthless these days. Not worth the waste of paper anymore.

sadly, aarp is the only place media look to when there's an aging issue. the org is so very big, has been wanting for so very long. but look at all of us: we seem to agree it's bogus!

I, too remember being bombarded with invites to join AARP in my 50's and laughed at the whole idea, thinking they're sure desperate to get a running start. Some years later, I started to have some interest in the articles so I joined to see if I could also really get the $$ benefits from membership they touted.

As someone else noted, the content of the mag started changing and I stopped reading much. Then when they came out for Medicare D, that was the end of my subscription and I wanted to send AARP a message as it turned out others did, too.

I recently renewed my subscription when they mentioned this blog and recognized the writer of same, but am thinking when renewal time comes up, I just may not renew, 'cause they're missing the boat on talking about aging with anything written by someone who really expresses the real values of aging as we often read here by the blogger and others. Obviously, AARP doesn't understand how to celebrate the reality of aging, but only to try to turn aging into youth-seeking.

Pointing up these distortions of reality, really isn't a matter of "lightening up" on this topic. It's about making people aware of what aging really is, the wonders of it, that it's okay to celebrate how we age without having to try and hide how we look as though there's something shameful about getting older. I don't think it's enough to just sit back quietly and say nothing which is tacitly allowing the status quo to continue.

I like the way Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith, and a multitude of other aging actors, male and female appear in real life -- be it Great Britain, U.S., France, other countries. Why can't the world just accept them as they are? Isn't that what we try to communicate to our children, I accept you just as you are? Why doesn't that apply throughout life?

Note to Rain: you said "Too bad someone doesn't do a photographic book with glamorous older women, not because they are made up with phony glamour but the real McCoy ..." Someone has, and it is superb. Check out "Wise Women" by Joyce Tenneson (Bullfinch Press,2002. It's full of absolutely marvellous portraits of REAL women.

There is no support from groups like AARP
....one of the most disturbing facts is that the people's representatives in the legislature and other organizations like AARP have not addressed this issue to their constituents. - Dr. Irwin Perr MD, JD

I am so glad to see this. I worked for a short time at AARP a few years ago. My advice is to run as far away from this fraud of an organization as possible. I can give you an earful of unbelievable things that I witnessed and heard while I was there. After I left AARP, I immediately cancelled my membership. They really do need to be exposed.

I have a friend in NYC who works in Publicity for the Broadway stars and he showed my a photo he took of Lauren Bacall (Was she the celebrity with high cheekbones mentioned in a previous blog?). It was, of course, untouched and she was as wrinkled as I am. I later saw an airbrushed photo of her taken recently and she looked 30 years younger.
Wow! The comments about AARP are revealing. I hope the editors at AARP read this Blog and wise up. I, too, cancelled my membership when they lobbied for Medicare Part D and just renewed it last year. I will reconsider my decision to renew again if they don't get real. Shame on AARP for promoting the Youth culture.

You would be even more appalled if you visited their offices in Washington, DC. Just about everyone I met there was approximately 35 or younger. They are the ones airbrushing everybody. And that's one of the mildly disturbing things about it.

Ironically, I started reading blogs after being directed to a particular blog by an AARP article. It was yours. I now enjoy a lovely list of blogs I visit every morning with my coffee.

Perhaps you should have written this entry under the guise of Crabby. As far as your being unhappy with the cover photo of Helen Mirren, check out the hideous cartoon accompanying the article "Attack of the 50-Plus Women!" I'm surprised you aren't angry about how wrinkly and over-the-top these fine actresses are portrayed.

I enjoyed and wholeheartedly agree with your refreshing, clear-eyed comments about AARP's sad sell-out of its traditional constituency in pursuit of the almighty buck in the form of a much larger, exceedingly younger membership. In appreciation, I'd like to offer an op-ed article I wrote four or five years ago. In fairness, I haven't seen a copy of AARP Magazine since I canceled my membership back when I wrote the piece, but after reading your remarks I see that not much has changed. I thank all of you for your outspoken integrity!

- - -

How about dividing AARP
Into the AYOA and AOOA?

“I see old people.”

It’s what a teenager might say, flipping through his parents’ AARP magazine. Interestingly, though, the three-letter word is conspicuously absent from the publication itself, as if systematically routed by an editor’s spell checker because it’s become the latest expletive, particularly to baby boomers: “Hey, boy, who you callin’ old?”

Which is why in the halcyon world of “AARP The Magazine” (nee “Modern Maturity”), people are young, become older and eventually die. But they don’t get old in the process.

The U.S. Census Bureau groups the nation’s 24.3 million “Near Old” (ages 55 to 64), 18.4 million “Young Old” (65 to 74), 12.4 million “Old Old” (75 to 84) and 4.2 million “Oldest Old” (85 and over) into a demographic slumgullion it labels America’s Older Population.
These numbers don’t include the cresting wave of nearly 83 million baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1965) that will lift the demographic tide of older Americans to high-water marks for decades to come.

Meanwhile, in the kinder, gentler embrace of these census categories, we won’t be old until we turn 65 -- only nearly old. From 65 to 74 we’ll still be partly young. At 75 we’ll be undeniably old, we but won’t join that terminal fraternity of the oldest old until we hit 85. Even then, the far parameter of this final classification remains mercifully open-ended, suggesting countless decades still to come.
By reducing its age-requirement to 50 at the turn of the century, AARP immediately welcomed the vanguard of boomers into its graying ranks. The Census Bureau puts the total of Americans age 50 to 54 years old at more than 17.6 million, so lowering the age bar was obviously a shrewd marketing move for the venerable association founded in 1958 as the American Association of Retired Persons. By making everyone but children, teenagers, Gen-Xers and the youngest baby boomers eligible to enroll, AARP has swollen its roster to some 35 million members. And that’s barely scraping the demographic barrel.

The flood of AARP direct-mail enrollment invitations, however, generated a groundswell of resentment among boomers, indignantly unappreciative of the unwelcome reminders of their galloping mortality: “Way to ruin my day, guys!”

But since “old” has become a fighting word to our Peter Pan generation, while “young” is an amusing misnomer to those of us who obviously aren’t anymore, what was AARP to do?

An obvious answer: lump everyone into one cozy group of “older” Americans with common concerns, similar needs and homogenous characteristics, no one old, everyone simply aging, “vigorously” or “sensibly” or “remarkably” and often in ways “belying age” or “defying nature.” What’s the harm, even if it’s just semantics, if it makes us feel good? Still, a question of practicality comes to mind. Doesn’t AARP’s tri-generational membership confuse its founding mission, blur its very reason for being?

What will happen as individual slices of dwindling entitlement pies shrink along with revenue sources? Will the various factions turn competitive, even adversarial, in their efforts to survive? If so, how can AARP vigorously and equitably champion all the divergent causes under its vast patronage?

Why not, instead, split AARP into two groups: the AYOA (Association of Young Older Americans ) and the AOOA (Association of Old and Oldest Americans)? Sign me up for the latter.

Now if only semantics could work as effectively on age as it does on denial.

When I approached AARP in hopes of getting some publicity/help to help my father to see his wife who was improperly removed from her home in 2004- I was not able to get any help from the Organization.-

I just thought I would share this information with all AARP members that read this post. I have a good friend that's in his 70's file a claim on a broken windshield on his vehicle. To make a long story short, after AARP replaced his windshield on his vehicle, they cancelled his policy 3 months later and never would tell him the reason why they did so. My friend says it was the 1st time he's ever made a claim in his whole driving career. This is a true story and something to think about, before you drop your insurance company you have been with for over 40 years.

I have become disenchanted with the AARP. A lot of us can't afford to retire and we WANT to work. I don't want to read some fluff about Bill Cosby or Helen Mirren (no disrespect intended to either of them). I want to know what the AARP is doing to expose ageism in hiring. Heck, the Grey Panthers may be more my speed at this point!

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